The Carolina Panthers opened up their annual mini-camp in the blistering heat. That heat, however, did not keep them from participating in one of the most impressive mini-camps I have seen. It felt less like a June mini-camp and more like an early August Spartanburg practice. This is not to say the day didn't have some light hearted and even touching moments... Cam Newton rolled up flashing an award winning smile, and he had good reason. Cam was playing host to rising first grader George Gring who attended practice through the efforts of the Make A Wish foundation. George, who was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma ,wished to play football with Cam Newton. Cam went the extra mile and acquired matching gold cleats for George. As Cam was stretching, he was having his fingers taped up. This got jeers from the Panthers defense, who were taunting him with "Does Cam have a boo boo?" I spotted Kelvin Benjamin on the sidelines learning how to juggle. Tennis balls have been a common theme this year. Time will tell if they had an impact on hand eye coordination. Practice started with punt returns. The punt returners in order were Antoine Cason, Kenjon Barner, and Philly Brown. Of the three, Cason continued to look the most promising and reliable. While no balls were dropped, Barner did have a bobble. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler again split time at left and right tackle throughout the day. Garry Williams was also thrown into the mix. Ron Rivera after practice describes Williams as a "Jack of all trades", indicating he will be used everywhere along the line this season. One area where Chandler has an all too obvious edge is getting off the ball quickly. Notice the difference in body positions in the above picture. Chandler, while giving up a bit of bulk to Bell, has much lighter feet. Offensive line drills began and were very physical. They worked on a variety of techniques under harsh criticism. Then, the practice really began. The day was filled with spirited offense versus defense play with a bit of contact. Stock Rising: Brandon Williams. Williams saw extended time with the first string today. He grabbed a couple of nice throws over the middle and on a quick out. He was also used as a lead blocker at times.Bene Benwikere. Benwikere abused Underwood on an extended pass play, blanketing him and helping to cause what would have been a sack.Trai Turner. Turner continues to impress and has the most nimble feet of any guard in recent memory. His pulling to the left to block for Deangelo Williams got me very excited.Chris Scott. Scott made it onto the practice field today and participated fully. That is a win for him.Mike McNeil. Mike had the best grab of the day in the end zone, leaping over Colin Jones who could not make the play.Stock Falling:Byron Bell. Bell struggled most of the day today. On one play in particular, Mario Addison was able to get low and gain the outside edge on Bell with ease, resulting in a would be sack. Bell also struggled in blitz pickup, allowing blitzing linebacker DJ Smith to get the the quarterback. Which leads us to the next falling...Blitz Pickup. Head coach Ron Rivera remarked after practice "Sean put in some new blitzes today, they were new and different for our offense to try to pick up". There needs to be much improvement in this area if we want Cam Newton to stay healthy.Marvin McNutt. While McNutt did make a few routine catches, he missed a ball that he had to extend for that did hit him in the hands. You have to make those plays if you want to make the roster.Overall, it was a solid practice that both showcased what the Panthers can do but also a few opportunities for improvement.
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